Notes for an address at the Symposium sur les langues officielles during the annual convention of the Assemblée de la francophonie de l'Ontario

Ottawa, Ontario, October 27, 2017
Ghislaine Saikaley - Interim Commissioner of Official Languages

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Début de dialogue


First, I would like to thank the Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario (AFO) for inviting me to say a few words during this annual convention, whose theme, Dépassons nos objectifs, expresses our common goal of always doing more to promote official languages and linguistic duality.

Surpassing ourselves is even more important now that we are at a crossroads. We are all eagerly awaiting the new official languages plan. We are hoping to see changes to the Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations and the Official Languages Act, which is turning 50 in 2019. And, as you know, we are looking forward to the appointment of a new commissioner of official languages soon.

When I look at the topics that will be discussed during the convention, I realize that the AFO, as an organization that represents the Franco-Ontarian community, is more relevant than ever and addresses issues that are of great concern to all Franco-Ontarians.

Take Francophone immigration in Ontario, for example. Is the province welcoming French-speaking immigrants in sufficient numbers? Let’s just say that it is far from achieving its goal. The same can be said of the federal government, even though many recent initiatives by the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship to increase Francophone immigration align with the recommendations made by my predecessor, including:

  • implementing the Francophone Mobility program;
  • adopting a more inclusive method for establishing and measuring the number of French-speaking immigrants; and
  • awarding additional points in the Express Entry system for candidates with a strong knowledge of French.

However, I think we can all agree that more needs to be done. I will soon be meeting with the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, and I plan to share my concerns with him, particularly with regard to integrating refugees into minority French-language schools.

Access to health services in Ontario is just as important. Franco-Ontarians have been on the alert since the fight to save the Montfort Hospital. And with reason.

The AFO’s White Paper on health care, the Livre blanc sur les assises de la santé en français en Ontario, suggests concrete measures for the delivery of services in French that effectively meet the needs of Ontario’s French-speaking communities. It is so very important for Franco-Ontarians to have access to Francophone spaces, whether for health, social services or recreation. These spaces contribute to the vitality of French-speaking communities throughout Ontario.

Your dedication to Franco-Ontarians sends a clear message to decision makers both in Queen’s Park and in Ottawa. This message can be summed up in one word: leadership. Leadership is catching, and you need to keep spreading it. Your leadership influences the decisions of elected leaders at all levels of government: federal, provincial and municipal.

Take, for example, the Government of Ontario’s decision last August to replace the Office des affaires francophones de l’Ontario with a full ministry. I know that the AFO had been asking for this for years.

Another example is the government’s plan to create a French-language university in southern Ontario, which Francophone Affairs Minister Marie-France Lalonde called “a historic moment” when she made the announcement in August.

I don’t think anyone needs reminding that Ontario’s 620,000 Francophones constitute the largest French-speaking population outside of Quebec. Or that more than 430,000 Torontonians speak French. However, statistics show that only 22% of Ontario’s post-secondary programs are available in French and that 27% of high school students in central and southwestern Ontario choose post-secondary programs in French. In this context, it is clearly essential to create a French-language university so that young people have an opportunity to continue their studies entirely in French.

I am confident that the AFO will continue its work to ensure that an independent French-language university is established that has a provincial mandate and that is run by and for Franco-Ontarians. All these advances are proof that your leadership is catching and that you are being heard at Queen’s Park.

I would like to highlight the critical role played by my Ontario counterpart, François Boileau, who is celebrating 10 years as French Language Services Commissioner. What a great decade. Congratulations, François!

Thanks to all of you, the work of the Franco-Ontarian community is more coordinated than ever, and this bodes well for the future. I would even say that the AFO’s original motto, “L’union fait la force” (strength in unity), is still important today.

On that note, I hope you have an excellent symposium and an enjoyable convention. I also hope that the Franco-Ontarian community continues to survive and thrive!

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